Halliday versus Parker and Kramer
The 2005 Annual Wine Press Club of NSW Lecture was presented this year by wine commentator and author James Halliday. Mr Halliday discussed how wines commended and awarded in the Australian wine show system are in many cases quite different to those lauded by overseas critics.
Well at least that is how the Wine Press Club of NSW described the lecture. Reading through the speech (available as a PDF) you get the feeling that Halliday is hoping to defend Australian wines and wine judging in a forceful manner but his argument is flawed. Essentially Halliday uses Trophy results from the Sydney Royal Wine Show (2000 and 2005) to argue that 1) wine judges do not agree with Robert Parker on what constitutes Australia’s best wines, and 2) that Matt Kramer is wrong when he suggests that Australian wine styles are set by the big companies, and this is validated at wine shows where the big wine companies run fixed events.
There is considerable debate about the value of wine show results in Australia, but this is not something that is restricted to Australia. Only the naïve would believe that Trophy and medal winners have won against all comers; in truth many winemakers do not enter their wines. Wine show results should be viewed in the context of the wines that make up the competition, and the expertise of the judges.
So why aren’t Robert Parker’s favorite’s big winners at Australian wine shows? Halliday goes to some length to demonstrate that many of the wine regions not favored by Parker are the big winners, and that among red wines Cabernet Sauvignon, not Parker’s favorite Shiraz, wins most trophies. The relevant paragraphs are:
But what about the McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Barossa Valley? Five for
McLaren Vale and two each for Langhorne Creek and – amazingly for some – the Barossa Valley.
These three regions are overwhelmingly the birthplace of the monstrous red wines so
beloved of Robert Parker, yet they are also outranked by the Riverina (6), the King Valley (5), Orange (4) and the Grampians (4). Sorry, Mr Parker, whichever way you want to look at it, the Australian show judges profoundly disagree with you.
All would be well and truly explained, including Kramer’s assertions, if Halliday had left it at that but then he writes the following (on page 7)
At the same time, the composition of the judging panels goes a long way to explaining why Parkeresque wines seldom achieve any significant recognition. Under the Chairmanship of Brian Croser, there has been an emphatic instruction to all judges to reward wines with finesse and elegance, and to penalise over-ripe, over-extracted wines. I can assure you there will be no change of policy under my forthcoming Chairmanship.
Oops, I think someone just shot himself in the foot and then ever so adroitly stuffed it in his mouth! Of course Parker’s favorites are not going to be the favorites of the show judges if the deck is stacked in such a manner. Is this same emphatic instruction a reason why many wines are not exhibited? That would seem a reasonable explanation.
And what about Kramer’s criticsm? Well he was only slightly off target. Its not the big wine companies that set the wine styles its the chairmen of wine shows! And of course they don’t have an axe to grind do they?